HRTAC could create agency triad

Published 9:53 pm Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission’s new finance committee had its first meeting on Tuesday, ahead of the full commission’s retreat this Thursday.

The group, which does not include any representatives from Suffolk, discussed a draft budget for administrative expenses for the new commission, which approaches $1 million with a barebones staff and other expenses estimated.

A major topic of discussion became whether the commission should be a standalone organization or whether it should share an executive director with two other entities — the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission and Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization — with each agency having its own deputy executive director.

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Having unified leadership would save money, improve coordination and minimize conflicts, Sen. Frank Wagner wrote in a letter distributed with the draft budget.

However, not everyone agreed.

“If we have a director of three organizations, he essentially works for 66 people,” Eugene Hunt, mayor of Poquoson, said in reference to the three boards. He expressed a concern that the person could not be successful working for three different organizations, and that the organizations may not be able to agree on getting rid of someone who wasn’t working out.

But Newport News Mayor McKinley Price said he did not see the person as having 66 bosses — only the three boards.

Others said they believed the legislation that created the commission intended for it to be a standalone organization. The commission was created in the 2014 General Assembly to issue debt against an influx of new tax dollars — about $200 million a year — intended to fund various projects.

Grindly Johnson, the deputy secretary of transportation, said her office would prefer a separate executive director “based on the fact the code set it up as a standalone.”

Another topic of discussion was whether the budget should include support staff — initially listed as a chief financial officer, financial analyst and executive assistant — or whether the executive director should be able to hire his own staff.

“Otherwise, we’re making decisions for who we need to hire,” Hunt said. “Let’s just give them a little bit of leeway to stand up their operation.”

All of the committee members, however, acknowledged the importance of getting started as soon as possible.

The localities that are part of the new commission, including Suffolk, will pay a percentage of administrative costs based on population. Suffolk’s percentage is 5.09 percent.

The budget will be among the topics of discussion at the retreat on Thursday, which begins at 10 a.m. at the Regional Building, 723 Woodlake Drive in Chesapeake.